Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Music review: Delray Quartet closes 6th season in exemplary style

Juan Arriaga (1806-1826).

By Greg Stepanich

The Delray String Quartet that finished its‭ ‬sixth season‭ ‬this past weekend at the Colony Hotel in its namesake‭’‬s historic downtown‭ ‬is a foursome that has been playing together more frequently than its earlier iterations,‭ ‬thanks to its expanded three-county performance schedule.

And the extra‭ ‬time together showed Sunday,‭ ‬with excellent performances of‭ ‬quartets by Arriaga and Tchaikovsky that were fully in the spirit and style of their very‭ ‬different composers.‭ ‬As a bonus,‭ ‬the quartet listed its programs for the‭ ‬upcoming‭ ‬seventh season,‭ ‬and it is a good series,‭ ‬with rarities,‭ ‬American works and core Germanic‭ ‬classics that make up concerts truly worth looking forward to.

Sunday‭’‬s program‭ ‬opened‭ ‬with the Quartet No.‭ ‬2‭ (‬in A‭) ‬of the sadly short-lived Spanish composer Juan Arriaga,‭ ‬“the Spanish Mozart,‭”‬ who died‭ ‬10‭ ‬days‭ ‬shy of his‭ ‬20th birthday.‭ ‬Arriaga was without doubt a major talent,‭ ‬and this quartet,‭ ‬one of three the teenage composer finished,‭ ‬offers a‭ ‬telling‭ ‬demonstration‭ ‬of the potential that was lost when he died.

This is a sunny,‭ ‬inventive,‭ ‬vigorous‭ ‬piece,‭ ‬and the Delray played it that way.‭ ‬The first movement chugged along in good Haydnesque fashion,‭ ‬with an admirable balance between motifs and accompaniments.‭ ‬In the opening section,‭ ‬for instance,‭ ‬second‭ ‬violinist Megan McClendon and violist Richard Fleischman kept the repeated chord figures delicate but persistent,‭ ‬setting an ideal backdrop for the first violinist Mei-Mei Luo‭’‬s playing of the main theme,‭ ‬and cellist Claudio Jaffé‭’‬s‭ ‬reading of the‭ ‬precisely etched‭ ‬falling figure‭ ‬that‭ ‬answered it.‭

The theme-and-variations second‭ ‬movement‭ ‬offered‭ ‬a good,‭ ‬well-played variety of styles,‭ ‬from the‭ ‬first violin‭’‬s‭ ‬florid elaboration‭ ‬of‭ ‬the theme in the first variation and the‭ ‬sparkle of McClendon and Jaffé‭’‬s leaping figures in the second,‭ ‬to the somber‭ ‬beauty of the minor-key variation,‭ ‬soulfully‭ ‬played by Fleischman,‭ ‬and‭ ‬the‭ ‬charm of the all-pizzicato‭ ‬fourth‭ ‬variation‭ ‬that followed.‭

The group gave the trio‭ ‬section‭ ‬of the third-movement‭ ‬minuet‭ ‬an almost Beethovenian sense of expectant‭ ‬stasis,‭ ‬which‭ ‬helped create maximum contrast for‭ ‬the‭ ‬headlong joy of the finale‭; ‬the Delray played it closing pages particularly well,‭ ‬with a substantial head of steam before heading into the big arpeggio gesture of the last bars.

The‭ ‬second‭ ‬half of the concert was devoted to the String Quartet No.‭ ‬1‭ (‬in D,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬11‭) ‬of Tchaikovsky,‭ ‬one of the‭ ‬most‭ ‬popular‭ ‬of all quartets.‭ ‬Here,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬the Delray entered entirely into the world of this work,‭ ‬which is so suffused with indelible melody and effective instrumental color.

Of particular‭ ‬note was the well-known‭ ‬Andante cantabile second movement,‭ ‬whose secondary theme is so treacherous for the first violin in that it‭’‬s‭ ‬very plain,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s‭ ‬in a tough key and it‭’‬s completely exposed over the‭ ‬gentlest of accompaniments.‭ ‬This has often been a place for tuning to go awry,‭ ‬but on Sunday,‭ ‬Luo handled it with‭ ‬accuracy and elegance,‭ ‬so much so that the composer‭’‬s transition back to the main theme sounded logical rather‭ ‬than forced.


The Scherzo movement,‭ ‬essentially a folk dance,‭ ‬was played with strong,‭ ‬but not too strong,‭ ‬offbeat accents,‭ ‬and the closing movement had‭ ‬plenty‭ ‬of fire after the light,‭ ‬almost offhand‭ ‬interpretation‭ ‬of the opening bars.‭ ‬Jaffé was especially good in‭ ‬the beauty of his upper-register playing in‭ ‬the movement‭’‬s secondary folk tune,‭ ‬toward the end.

The Tchaikovsky received rapturous applause,‭ ‬and‭ ‬as an encore,‭ ‬the Delrays played a William Zinn arrangement of a rag by Scott Joplin:‭ ‬Country Club,‭ ‬published in‭ ‬1909.‭ ‬It was a‭ ‬charming‭ ‬piece,‭ ‬ably performed,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it made‭ ‬a smile-inducing end to‭ ‬what has been a watershed season for this Palm Beach County ensemble.


***

Five programs are on the schedule for the Delray‭’‬s seventh season,‭ ‬which again will feature performances in Miami-Dade and Broward‭ ‬counties as well as the Colony.‭ ‬Two American works‭ ‬--‭ ‬the Fourth Quartet of Kenneth Fuchs‭ ‬(in December‭) ‬and the Second Quartet of Randall Thompson‭ ‬(in March‭) ‬– are planned along with rarities such as the Piano Quintet of Jean Sibelius‭ (‬in March‭)‬,‭ ‬which will feature pianist Tao Lin.‭ ‬Canonical works by Haydn‭ (‬No.‭ ‬32‭ ‬in C,‭ ‬The Bird‭)‬,‭ ‬Beethoven‭ (‬No.‭ ‬6‭ ‬in B-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬18,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬6‭)‬,‭ ‬Brahms‭ (‬No.‭ ‬2‭ ‬in A minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬51,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬2‭) ‬and Schumann‭ (‬No.‭ ‬3‭ ‬in A,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬41,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬3‭)‬ also are scheduled,‭ ‬along with works by Shostakovich‭ (‬No.‭ ‬7‭ ‬in‭ ‬F-sharp minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬108‭) ‬and Tchaikovsky‭ ( ‬No.‭ ‬2‭ ‬in F,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬22‭)‬.‭ ‬For more‭ ‬information,‭ ‬call‭ ‬213-4138‭ ‬or visit www.delraystringquartet.com.‭

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